Following the prime minister’s criticism of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the anti-corruption watchdog regretted that it had “inherited some problems that hampered its investigation process”.
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In addition, the interior minister has offered to constitute a judicial commission to look into former president Asif Ali Zardari’s claim that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) also was exceeding its mandate.
Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah also endorsed the PM’s views on NAB, but others, including the PTI, called for greater transparency and said his remarks were tantamount to ‘interference’ in the process of accountability. On Wednesday, NAB spokesperson Nawazish Ali Asim issued an official statement that vowed to improve the accountability process in line with the PM’s criticism and directives. The statement claimed that the government was not interfering with NAB’s work and that the bureau would act upon the PM’s advice.
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“The non-interference policy of the government has helped NAB become an independent organisation and it respects the opinion of Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif,” the spokesperson said. “The organisation inherited some problems and it [is quickly] taking necessary measures to resolve them,” he added. The PM had lashed out at NAB on Tuesday and threatened to clip its powers over what he termed “harassment of government officers”. He had said that bureaucrats were afraid of taking decisions because they were fearful of NAB harassment. NAB terrifies government officers and hinders them from performing their duties, while NAB officials enter the houses and offices of ‘innocent people’ without verifying the authenticity of the charges against them, he had said.
These views were echoed by Syed Khursheed Shah who said on Wednesday, “I agree that NAB’s modus operandi is not correct.” Mr Shah told reporters that the PM had personally decided to appoint Qamar Zaman Chaudhry as chairman of the bureau. He said he had hoped that NAB would hold all people equally accountable, but many political parties had complained that unlike Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the bureau was doing nothing in Punjab, which was run by the ruling PML-N. But PTI members rushed to NAB’s support in the National Assembly.
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“NAB will definitely conduct inquiries if the Sharifs continue to plunder national wealth,” PTI leader Sarwar Khan said on the floor of the house, adding that the PM should make accountability institutions more powerful, instead of threatening them. The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency also expressed concern over PM’s warning to NAB, saying that Mr Sharif had gone out of the way to threaten the bureau. The institute warned that any effort to roll back the ‘independence and effectiveness’ of NAB would only ‘dilute democracy’ and invite ‘non-institutional accountability’ by institutions which did not have legal mandate, but the muscle, to undertake such actions.